Fall In Love With The Museum of Broken Relationships

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From a singular smelly sneaker, to a half-completed Sodoku puzzle book, my fictional characters would have gladly donated their break-up debris to the Museum of Broken Relationships. But when I first wrote the first draft of ‘Break Up Club’, there was no such thing. So the Club had to make do with building a bonfire that led to the fire brigade being called out, and almost being thrown in jail.

Luckily, now there’s a real place you can send your break-up detritus (date-tritus, anyone?). I was lucky enough to go to the sneak preview ahead of its opening today, June 4th, at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard.*

#BrokenshipsLA is a cathedral of catharsis, where only the brave have shed their most intimate, sentimental memories, and laid their broken dreams to rest. Reading the plaques, the relief is palpable. You get a real sense of these people having finally attained peace in themselves, having finally let go.

Being a geek about break-ups (an occupational hazard), I’ve been to the museum twice before over the years. But this time, I was struck dumb by the quality of the writing in all the stories. I feel disloyal saying this, but I don’t remember the plaques in London all being as impeccably written. Perhaps there has been a more shrewd editing process this time, but they are all brilliantly balanced – both as pieces in themselves, and in relation to each other. Sensitively curated, some stories are brutally short; a real power in their brevity. Others are as long and meandering as the lifetimes they span.

The artefacts range from the funny (a mirror weighed down with the memory of a break-up), the freaky (curled up contacts collected in a baggy), the frightening (belly button fluff)… to the heartbreaking (the teddy who no longer has music in his fingertips)… and the adorably mundane:

minty fresh

At this point I can’t not mention another similarity to ‘Break Up Club’ – which has its own fluoride motif, first mentioned here:

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But back to the museum. Below are some of my all time favourites.

Yard 2
Heavy baggage
yard1
Free in every sense of the word
comic
Nobody’s hero
The butterfly effect
broken wings
When a butterfly flaps its wings… all the way to the rubbish dump
bearly there1
Bear of little heart
bearly there 2
No picnic
bearly there 3
Uncomfortable silence

After an hour in the Museum, you are bowled over by the universality of break-ups. A sense that Love is the best feeling in the world, whereas break-ups are worse than death. But most of all you come away realising that it’s only by sharing our hoarding with others that we can declutter our emotional attics and finally move on. A break-up shared really is a break-up halved.

In the spirit of sharing, then – if I was ever going to donate an object, it would be one red high-heeled shoe. A symbol of one particularly significant love story I lived through. I won’t bore you with the details, but it began with a romantic Cinderella-esque meet-cute, and ended when the relationship turned into a pumpkin 10 months later. Sadly, I can’t donate the original shoe because the ‘real life Break Up Club’ and I burned it in a bonfire. This was back in 2009, before Zagreb’s first Brokenships had opened. So like my characters, we had to improvise.

I had to laugh when the invite came into my inbox with one red high-heeled shoe on it. 

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*Incidentally, ‘Break-Up Club’ itself has also finally just opened its doors, thanks to Harper Collins. You can join here, or find out more at breakupclub.co.uk

 

 

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Come to Memory lane, E2

A while ago I (Lol) signed up for an unusual writing project with writer’s collective 26 and the Ministry of Stories.

The gist of it was, you get randomly paired with an artefact from the V & A Museum of Childhood and then you have to write a personal response to it.

The tricky part? You’re only allowed 62 words – what they’re calling a ‘sestude’. “Write whatever you like,’ they said. “Fact or fiction. Poetry or prose. It doesn’t have to be about the object, just inspired by it.”

Everyone’s got their own unique objects that sum up their childhood. In all honesty, if I was asked to sum up my childhood in a few words, three of them would be ‘Caravan’ and ‘Sylvanian Families.’ More on that here.

So it was all a bit bonkers when they told me my object was a Sylvanian Caravan. My first thought was, is this a wind-up? My second was, awesome, this is going to be fun.

I bloody loved those furry little buggers. I still think they’re pretty impressive, to be honest. From their perfectly proportioned  accessories, to their names – from Rocky Babblebrook, Hickory Hawthorn to Mortimer Bramble… names so evocative, they’re like the linguistic equivalent of teleportation.

Also, I don’t know if anyone realises this but the thing about Sylvanians is that they’re actually REAL. They have broadband and everything. Go to the website and see for yourself. The person to email at the ‘contact us’ tab is called Rose Timbertop. Seriously – I have proof. She just emailed me.

Nat once told me the best Sylvanian anecdote I’ve ever heard. Her boyfriend (Loftus) once had go with his sister’s Sylvanians while she was out. When she came back, she discovered he’d installed an intricate plumbing system all over the entire Sylvanian house, from the sinks to the bathrooms, upstairs and down. His equipment? Household straws.

Unsurprisingly the system wasn’t watertight. Water went everywhere, and as every child knows, you must never get a Sylvanian wet. They get chronic alopecia and cease to become cute. Loftus, on the other hand, grew up to be a successful product designer, first hired by James Dyson.

Another reason I loved the Sylvanians was the way they all shrink in incrementally equal sizes, like matroskha dolls. Maybe that’s one reason they’re so popular – the way they represent everything that’s good about this world, only a miniature, safe version of it. Other people who are interested in scale (Will Self and Slinkachu among them) speak of the feeling as being God-like, having control over a tiny world that you can rearrange any which way.

That’s the thing. When you’re a kid, no matter how bleak or discordant the world outside can get, everything looks tidy and harmonious in Sylvania. Even when you can hear your parents arguing through the floorboards, or if it’s pissing with rain outside, everything’s just peachy in Sylvania.

The Sylvanian Families shop in Hackney is situated directly next to a weapons shop. Which I think about sums it up. You’d never see guns in Sylvania.

So I had wanted to write about how there’s no guncrime in Sylvania. I had a line ‘no one gets shanked’ but it seemed a bit too harsh. Plus, there was that bloody word limit.  62 words is a very small canvas when you’re used to writing 90,000 word novels or TV ads.

In the end, my 62 words ended up being an exploration of the promise of childhood, as seen through the prism of adulthood.

The title was an ironic reference to my favourite writer Tom Stoppard, who references the phrase ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ in his play – meaning, even in Arcadia there is death. Suffice to say, they’re not the chirpiest 62 words I’ve ever written!

And yet strangely it’s had the warmest response to anything I’ve ever written. Apparently it’s made grown men cry?!

There’s definitely a lesson there about saying less. It’s like writing a really pithy headline or endline. The real skill is in what you chop out. (she says, fourteen pages in).  But it’s true – Shakespeare was onto something when he said ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.

And it’s also true what John Simmons (one of the people behind 26) says. Sometimes constraints actually fuel creativity, rather than stifle it. Nat and I try and tell ourselves that when we get told there’s a tiny budget.

Anyway. I’ve rambled on long enough… If you’re so inclined you can see the actual bit of writing here in this Design Week article, along with a lovely piece about Skaletrix by Ian Douglas.

From tonight, all 26 pieces will be on display at the Museum of Childhood/V & A.

Read all about the childhood exhibition here

Or read the nice write-up in the Guardian.

And if you’re anywhere near East London then you can pop along to see it from the 13th October to the 14 April 2013.

It’s just past Bethnal Green tube, down memory lane.

New Lines for London Underground

A while ago we wrote about the Poetiquette campaign that’s been up on the tubes. A lovely way to encourage people to be less self-involved while they’re travelling.

They’ve now awarded a winner – Jennifer Dart from Rayleigh in Essex, who saw off competition from over 6,000 aspiring poets to be crowned the official winner of the Travel Better London poetry competition.

The poem, which was written on the topic: ‘Avoid Unnecessary Delays. Don’t hold open the doors’, was crowned the winning entry by a panel of judges including Aisling Fahey, Young Poet Laureate for London, writer George the Poet and Sophie Baker from The Poetry Society.

Her verse has since been immortalised in cartoon form, complete with her very own caricature. It is now being displayed on buses and Tubes across the Capital.

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TfL’s Travel Better London campaign was launched in September 2013 when colourful poetry posters designed by the artist McBess were showcased on London transport encouraging people to consider their fellow passengers when travelling.

There was also another lovely element to the campaign a few years ago – something I just discovered that a copywriting-poet-friend of mine called Amy Acre did with M & C Saatchi. She was hired to be writer-in-residence on various sites all over the tube, writing impromptu poems about little stories of TFL etiquette.

My personal favourite is this one – Your Butt is a hero. Go Amy.